Cultivating Joy, Cultivating Friendships

When I was a teenager, I had no idea how to sustain friendships. This is not hyperbole. I literally did not have healthy friendships modeled for me, and the friendships I did have were with people who were experiencing the same amount of strain or trauma in their personal life as I was. We were all just trying to figure it out without any guidance to show us the way. So, we hurt each other. A lot.

But even with the hurts we were blindly injuring one another with, we still managed to find some lasting and comforting forms of companionship. As I’m writing this, I’m waiting for a friend at a local coffee shop. Someone I’ve known since high school. We’ve managed to stay friends through the years. Through college, career changes, babies and marriages, we’re still a resource for one another.

But this hasn’t been the case with many of the people I once called friends. I’d like to explore some of what brings us together and how to keep these bonds healthy. How do we nurture the initial spark of friendship that brings us together, to last through the years? Let’s start with the spark, and see where it takes us.

What Makes a Friendship?

I’ve said this before on this blog, that Jay-Z’s line, “real recognize real and you lookin’ familiar” has a spark of truth in it for me when it comes to describing a friendship. What I like about it is, that I think we recognize what’s familiar in one another’s experiences and circumstances. We see that we’re in the middle of something that looks familiar to us, and are drawn to one another. I suppose as a way to support each other while we try to figure it out. Two heads are better than one, as they say : ) ( :

We’re mirroring each other in a way. And I believe this brings us comfort. Because seeing someone else succeed helps give us the confidence to succeed. And if we fail, we have each other as support. Someone who can show us the positive in us while we’re busy beating ourselves up for not succeeding. And if you’re like me, you are beating yourself up quite a bit.

So having another around to help show us that we’re human, and bound to make mistakes, is helpful in keeping us more grounded and balanced. For me, it has been invaluable to have that kind of friendship. The one that tells me I’m “killin’ it”, while I’m paying back my student loans after cutting back to only working one job. This friend was also in debt until recently. We are both here for each other, cheering one another on while we work to achieve our goals. And that’s a great feeling. Feeling support from someone who knows how difficult it can be.

Maintaining a Lasting Connection

This was the difficult part for me. It was fairly simple finding people who were/are in similar situations to my own. But keeping the friendship alive was a mystery to me. What I’ve come to realize is, that we were all just surviving, and not able to think past our immediate circumstances. This lead to somewhat superficial connections.

I was so concerned with when the next panic attack was going to come, that I didn’t have the bandwidth to make plans for the future. Nor did I have the foresight to do the basics. Such as putting close friends’ birthdays in my calendar. I was just drifting from day to day without any plan or goal in mind, playing video games and drinking to numb my experience of what was happening to me. No bueno.

So, how did I change this? How did I go from just surviving to being an active role in my relationships? This took a lot of work. And it’s something I’m still working on. Let me show you what I’ve come up with for fostering friendships.

Make a List

I’m a list maker. I get a sense of joy and satisfaction just from organizing tasks, thoughts and events into a functional and attractive looking list. This is why I bullet journal. It gives me the right amount of art to organization ratio I need. So naturally, in order to stay in touch with those close to me, I’ve made a list.

This list is on my phone, and I’ve put various friends and relatives into four different groups of people. In the first group, are the people I check in with once a week. Then the following three groups are people that I check in with every three weeks, rotating through each group every week to make sure I don’t miss anyone. This way, I’m staying current with what’s happening in the people’s lives whom I care about.

Be Diligent

It also pays to be persistent as well. For example I was texting one person on my list for weeks with no response. This was kind of disheartening because this person is going through a lot of life events right now and I want to be a source of support for them. Then, during one phone call from his brother, I learned that he never responds to texts, (my preferred method of communication) only phone calls. So I called him the next day and low and behold he got right back to me with a text saying he was at work and is it important. That felt good. Like unlocking a puzzle.

Diligence has paid off with friendships for me in different ways too. I had definitely left many of my friendships to decay by simply neglecting them for a very long time. And I was a different person to most of the people who knew me before I changed. So rebuilding those connections wasn’t something that was a one and done deal. It took being persistent, but not pushy, and kind to those I was reaching out to. Hopefully letting them know that I’m not the ass I used to be.

But, this method worked. I’m now in regular communication with many of the people I was friends with from my past and I like to think that both our lives are richer for it. For example, a friend of mine that I used to cook with told me to Google search, “gross Jell-o molds” and it did not disappoint. My favorite was the ones with SpaghettiOs in them : P

Remember Your Shared Interests & Look for Experiences to Share

As far as the curriculum of friendships goes, planning events and then executing them might as well have been a trig class while I was still taking fundamentals of math. I’m an introvert, so doing things with others doesn’t come so naturally to me. I believe that in most of my romantic relationships, my partner was the one who was making plans for us. So during the seasons of my life where I’m on my own, I’ve had to find things and experiences to do, on my own.

What I’ve been trying to do is, when I think of something new or interesting that I’d like to get involved with, I scan my friendships to see who else might want to get involved. Then I shoot them a text to see if they’d like to join in. Again, this may seem obvious for many folks. But for us introverts, it’s a bit of a struggle to make that connection.

For example, I’ve been into thinking about my Polish heritage lately and am making my next self-care meal as an homage to Polish cuisine. There are a lot of mushrooms in Polish cooking so I found some recipes that looked satisfying. But the more I thought about mushrooms, the more fun I thought it would be to go foraging for some. I went once when I was a child, chanterelle picking in Vermont, and absolutely loved the experience. So I searched for foraging groups local to me then texted some people in my friend group who I would normally take hikes with. I thought combining the two, foraging and hiking was a perfect match.

If Your Friend Can’t Come to You Go to Them

If you’re like me, you’re pretty busy. Until recently I was working two jobs to pay off my student loans, and on the days I wasn’t working, which were few, I’d be cleaning and cooking for the week. This left me very little time for myself. But, I found the time to visit some of my friends who were equally as busy. Tending to our friendships was a priority for me. And I did this by getting creative with how we spent time together.

For example, one friend of mine worked at a local restaurant until recently. So on my nights off, I’d hop on the train and go visit with him while he was working. I’d grab a beer and a bite to eat while he sat behind the bar a told me about his goings on. His family and what’s been happening with him personally. It felt good catching up with him in this way. Seeing him in another light, another role. I feel like I know him better as a person now.

I have another friend who recently took a job at another local restaurant. We’ve been friends since grade school though we don’t get together very often. A couple friends of mine suggested that we go to his restaurant and visit while he bakes. A fun night out, catching up with old friends seems like a pleasant way to spend an evening : )

It’s also a good idea to be mindful of how much of yourself you’re giving in all of your friendships and be cognizant of your boundaries with them. If you find you are always doing for your friends, then maybe suggest a few changes to your rules of engagement. It’s no longer fun if it feels like a burden.

Take Risks

Also, it’s important to step outside your comfort zone. Building friendships isn’t always a walk in the park. There are going to be tough times as well as the good ones. And, sometimes meeting new people means expanding beyond what your comfortable with.

For example, a friend of mine called me out of the blue because she had tickets to a small venue to see a bluegrass band. It was on a day I had off, so I decided to go. I didn’t realize at the time that there would be close to eight of us going. If I had known I might not have gone. But I went, and had a great time. Also finding an amazing new venue for seeing music that I will be going back in the future for sure.

You are in Charge of Your Belonging

Connecting with others is risky sometimes. The pain of rejection, or being vulnerable around another is not something that is easily tolerated by many. Especially if you’ve experienced abuse or trauma. But it is necessary if we want to feel connection, or a sense of belonging. But don’t forget, you’re in charge.

It’s okay to go slow while reconnecting. That way, you’re taking care of yourself while taking the time in building your friendships. And also to take the time to know that they are healthy and genuine friendships. True friends are truly a blessing. Finding and cultivating these friendships is something that will bring us so much joy the more we tend to them. But we need to take the time to nurture them.

If you’ve found your relationships are less than fulfilling, maybe it’s time to inspect how you feel in your connections with and to others. Is the fear of pain greater than the value of your connection? If so, the relationship my be under strain. Maybe the strain of not feeling like you are totally accepted as who you are in the relationship for fear of being rejected. And being yourself is a large component of feeling genuine connection in our friendships.

So cultivate your friendships. And tend to them with a nurturing effort, and you’ll find joy in them. But also know who you are first. And true friends will help you to be the best version of yourself. Not expect you to change. Friendships aren’t always easy, but few things worth their while are. Be consistent and make your relationships a priority and they will yield feelings of comradery and joy. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “friendship” by bekassine… is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Cultivating Joy: Getting Cozy

Cozy is something that I’m learning to appreciate more and more as I age. I suppose this was what I was looking for when I would frequent bars. But cultivating cozy brings with it a sense of ease and joy. Now-a-days, I don’t search for my coziness pulled up on a bar stool. Now I’m surrounding myself with family members, friends, a clean or natural setting and a few creature comforts that engage the senses.

In the following, I’ll be going over some of the ways I cultivate cozy in my life. Why it’s so important to create these spaces as a refuge to feel safe and calm and refuel, if you’re an introvert like me. Also how to foster these spaces in your life. Getting cozy is also a great way to relieve stress and cultivate intimacy with those you love. So let’s jump in by slipping into something more comfortable.

Why the Need for More Coziness

There is a terrific amount of emphasis placed on being productive in American culture. I was reading Lee Iaccoca’s autobiography where he pointed this out with an astute observation. He explains, while talking about poor time management skills, how some business men will brag about working all year without taking a vacation. This is something I know to be true from my experience, of myself and those I’ve worked with.

Though I don’t work in the business sector, working ourselves too hard seems ubiquitous in American culture. It seems that everybody I know or meet has a second job to make ends meet. This leads to increased stress levels and less overall life satisfaction. I know in my family, we speak about working six to seven days a week with a sense of pride. I myself held two jobs for the past six years until recently. All in the name of paying down my student loans more quickly.

But all of this working lead me to feeling tired, anxious and unable to partake in the things and be with the people in my life, that bring me a sense of joy. No bueno. This is why it is so important to cultivate cozy in our lives as a direct response to all the tension and stress that we place on ourselves by pushing ourselves past what is healthy. So how do we do this? How do we create space in our lives for more cozy?

The Elements of Cozy

For me, I’ve found that it’s important to find what brings you a sense of ease, and tend to that. When you find something that sparks those feelings of being relaxed, take note of it and repeat those rituals or indulge in those things, but do it sparingly. For example, I’ve always been drawn to a well lighted room. Not in the sense that it is bright, more so that it has many sources of diffused lighting. Lending a softer feeling to the room. I love the flicker of candle light and the low glow from string lights. So I’ve incorporated these into my living space. Let’s take a look at some of the elements and how I’ve put them into practice.

1. Meals

Mealtime is an important one for me. Having worked in the food industry for most of my career and the negative reinforcement I received around my food consumption/weight, not to mention never being taught how to cook for or care for my nutritional needs, I suffered an awful lot when it came to my food intake. Luckily, this is an area I spent some considerable time reparenting myself around. It started when I decided to go veg.

I went vegan first, then switched to vegetarian. I did so for the health benefits, but mostly because, and I can’t remember where I heard this o don’t quote me on this, but if you eat vegan, you will naturally maintain a low body fat to high muscle ratio. Basically I wanted to look good naked. Now my new goal is to be healthy. To value being healthy over physical attraction. This is something I’m still struggling with a little.

But since I started taking care of my nutritional needs with a focus on my health, the quality of my meals has greatly increased. The food I prepare for my meals now is better than many restaurants I go to, and I’ve really learned to love the process. It helps that I also cook professionally. But when you’re making your favorite dish, engaging your senses in the process, something magic happens. Add a few friends or family to the mix and you have time well spent in cultivating cozy.

2. Cozy Space

This is essential for me, in maintaining a healthy headspace, mentally and emotionally. For me, it helps to know that I have a space that I can go to, that evokes a sense of ease and comfort. For me, this space is my room. It’s clean, has pieces and trinkets that remind me of my personality, smells good, has all the right ambient lighting and is cozy in all the ways that bring me a sense of feeling comfort.

This is especially important for unwinding from a stressful day or just time to recharge. If you’re introverted like I am, having downtime is essential to your mental health. Life gets hectic. Why not create a space that will bring you a sense of joy and well-being, just by being in it?

In creating your own space, try looking for what brings you joy just by looking at it. I enjoy the Boho vibe myself, but spend some time looking through photos on Pinterest or Instagram. Look for the images that bring you the most of joy, and see if you can replicate that in your space to cozy it up.

3. Cleanliness

Another element of cozy for me is having a clean living space. Really any space I spend a lot of time in, it’s beneficial for me for it to be clean and well taken care of. Because when you surroundings are in disorder, your inner space can feel the same way.

But sometimes we get busy. It’s not always easy to stay on top of our daily chores and cleaning duties. I try to set aside a day to get tasks like this done. One of my days is dedicated to food shopping, cooking and cleaning. This way I know I’ve set aside the time I’ll need to get done what needs my attention, while also enjoying the benefits of a clean living space.

Try assessing your surroundings and see where your space could use a little more attention. What is the state of your surroundings and are they as clean as you would like them to be? Do you have a regular cleaning schedule? What does your space look like when it’s in its ideal state of cleanliness? Try clearing some space in your schedule to find time for your own cleaning routine. Set aside a day like I have, to create a chores list, yes from when like you were a kid, and get down and dirty with your space. It’ll yield dividends in your happiness for sure : )

4. Creature Comforts

When I sit in my chair, with some music going and a cup of herbal tea, I feel more at ease. Add the ambient lighting I spoke about above, with my essential oil diffuser going and I’m feeling pretty relaxed. These small comforts are a big part of feeling more at ease in my space. Making the over all experience a more cozy one.

Again, this is a space where you need to find what you like. What are the small things in your day to day that bring you a sense of comfort? For me, living in New England, its cold in the winters and we being thrifty Yankees, set the thermostat to 64 degrees. So on the colder days, I have a few throw blankets and an electric heater by my side to warm things up a bit. Other wise I’d be freezing in my own house!

This is also a form of self expression. What scents do you like, and fill your space with those. It’s amazing how supported you can feel in an environment that has a few of your favorite things in them. So find what you like and make a list of these things, a resources list. This way, you can come back to them when you’re in need of a little cozy.

5. Music & Podcasts

These are essential in living the cozy life. Music has, as far back as I can remember, been a source of joy for me. It’s a great feeling when you put your favorite song on and just float on the rhythm. It’s equally as satisfying when you find a new favorite song. Something you can come back to time and again. The same is true of podcasts as well.

I have a few favorite playlists for days when I’d like to spend some time getting cozy. Here’s a band I’ve been listening to lately that’s been helping me cultivate more comfort. I also enjoy listening to podcasts when the mood strikes. This American Life is one of my favorites. Hearing other peoples stories is comforting. Especially when they align with your own. It’s cathartic to hear how others are handling similar situation and all while hearing a good story 🙂

If you haven’t already, it may be worth your while to explore which songs and artists helps to support cozy and ease in your life. Who are your favorite artists, and do they bring you comfort? I used to listen to a lot of industrial music. Artists like Nine Inch Nails and Ministry were on heavy rotation. These are not relaxing bands, nor do they embody cozy. So if you’re into something a little more heavy, try switching it up to something more light and see what comes up. You never know what you may find that you enjoy.

6. Friends & Family

This is another important one for me, and I imagine most people. Having supportive family and friends around is the difference between feeling lonely and without support, and feeling belonging and a sense of comfort. This is no small thing. It’s important to feel and stay connected to those we love.

I have a list of friends and family that I get in touch with once a week. This way, I’m working to build our relationship, and foster our connection. Otherwise, months could go by and we wouldn’t talk to one another. This was the way I used to be in relationship. I would let weeks or months go by without a word, and just assume that we were still close friends. This however is not the way to foster healthy friendships.

If you’ve been neglecting your relationships as I had, maybe pick a day each week and write a list of people you’d like to keep in touch with. Then send them a text or call them and catch up. I send texts, because it’s easier to juggle more than one conversation at a time and the other person doesn’t feel pressured to respond right away. Pick a time that works for you and start connecting. Even reaching out to people you haven’t spoken to in years. You may be surprised with who gets back to you : )

Make it a Routine

And to help make it stick, try making these habits a routine. For some of the items above, like meals, cleaning and friends and family, I have some time carved out from my day each week to tend to these areas. It helps to know that I have that time and space to get things done, so that they won’t fall through the cracks.

I spent a lot of time neglecting these areas of my life in the past. So if you’re like me, there may be some fear around falling back into old ways of being. But it’s good to remember that these are only fears, and you can choose to be a different person from who you used to be.

Also, there will be times when you fall short, and don’t meet your expectations. It’s important to be forgiving of yourself in these times. We all come up short sometimes. We’re human, it happens. The important part is to remember that it’s okay. We’re not perfect.

I hope this has been of some help to those looking to cultivate more cozy in their lives. Maybe start by taking one thing from this list, or something you already do that makes you feel cozy and incorporate that into your routine. And as you get comfortable, add more things. Pretty soon you’ll be living the cozy life. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Tea Mug Cozy” by KnitStorm is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Cultivating Joy: A Self-Care Routine

I’ve written about self-care on this blog before. One post on the benefits of making a self-care meal for yourself once a week. Well, my self-care meals have turned into a self-care routine that has been evolving since its meal time inception. And it’s something that’s given me a fair amount of joy in the process. I was so focused on pushing myself to achieve, that I almost completely forgot how to relax. No bueno. So my solution? Some forced fun and relaxation : )

I’d like to go over some of the parts to my self-care routine, as it is now, and why it’s so important to my mental health. It has been a difficult road, learning how to care for myself as I would, and have no problem doing, for a loved one. Hopefully, my realizations will help others who have struggled with self love also. Maybe we can relax our way into a healthier version of ourselves, together. Let’s step into something a little more cozy : )

“Find What Feels Good” -Adriene, & Keep Doing it

This was a tough one for me. Because when I started out on my journey to finding what I enjoyed doing, I didn’t really know what I liked. The ways I spent my time in self-care before was by numbing my emotional experience of the present. Usually by playing video games, drinking or watching TV.

These activities felt good, but it wasn’t the type of feeling that was satisfying, and weren’t really self-care. Not the way wrapping up a night by the fire pit with friends and a good conversation feels. It was more about passing the time without engaging in what was happening around me. Much like being on autopilot. There, but not there.

Or the feeling I get when I achieve something. This, however, can be dangerous. I was using the feeling of achieving and being productive, like a drug. I would keep pushing past what was healthy for my body, all to feel the high of my accomplishment. As Melba says, “it’s no easy”.

So what’s the solution? How do we “find what feels good” and pursue that in healthy moderation? And then how do we turn that into a sustainable routine? Something we derive joy from on a regular bases? To be honest, I’m still figuring that out. But I have some ideas. Let’s take a look at what I’ve come up with.

Step One: Get to Know Yourself & What You Even Like?

This one is tricky. I thought I knew what I liked. I thought this one was a no-brainer. And for some, maybe it is. But for me, getting to know what I liked was a challenge. Some of the conclusions I’ve come to on the subject are, I was so busy chasing something I thought I should like; i.e. a lifestyle and image, clothes and cars, that I lost touch with what I really enjoyed.

I’m not saying anything that’s new or mind blowing by any means. It seems that each generation struggles with this a new. But when you wake from, and realize what you’ve been doing, that’s worth paying attention to and to cultivate healthier habits. For me, and I imagine most people in my age and demographic, looking like Tylor Durden from Fight Club was what I thought happiness looked like.

There’s something so deceptively enticing about waking up and feeling completely satisfied with how you look, that you feel will lend you the confidence you need to be the person you want to be. And no matter how often we hear the perennial wisdom, “just be yourself”, there’s still that part of me that thinks I’ll be happier if I’m just a little bit different, a little “better” than who I already am.

Step Two: Breaking the Cycle

So, in order to break the cycle of making yourself chase somebody else’s idea of what we should like, stop, look around at your surroundings and ask, “do I like what I see?” If you’re like I was, it’ll take a while to recognize what you’re looking at. I had so little structure, so little order in my life, that there were very few threads that I could hold onto and say for certain, “this is who I am, this is what I like.”

And to add to the confusion, we change. Who I am now, isn’t who I was 10 years ago. And some things have changed, but only slightly. For example, I still love good food. Only now, I prefer to cook my meals at home instead of spending a night out at a restaurant or bar. I know what I like to eat. That’s one area that I’ve discovered I have a strong opinion about. Hence the self-care meals I prepare.

And like I said above, be patient with yourself. This process may take you some time, as it did me. Don’t be discouraged if you think you like something, only to realize that it doesn’t quite bring you as much joy as you thought it would. Or maybe you’re in a place where you’ve racked up a considerable amount of debt, holding you back from pursuing your interests. In this scenario, I’ve turned to the planning phase for solace. But be adventurous. Try new things. If something looks interesting or fun, give it a shot. How else are you going to find what you enjoy?

Step Three: Make a Plan

Making a plan is something that is comforting and doesn’t cost you any money. And if it’s something you’re going to enjoy doing, it’ll also bring you joy to plan for and think about it. For me, I enjoy the act of planning my self-care days. The routine that has become a somewhat regular part of my week. I spend some time picking out the meal I’ll be preparing. The dessert as well. The type of bath I’ll be taking and the scents that will be involved. Maybe choose the podcast I’ll be listening to also.

Sometimes I’ll write it down in my journal and actually have a template of what my day will look like. It helps me to illustrate what I’m planning. This way I have a sense of permanence to what I’m looking to achieve. I know that I already have an idea of what I’ll be doing, and need only to take a look at the structure to remind myself that I already have support.

This type of support is important. Most days, after working six days straight and some being fifteen hour days, I don’t have the energy or will power to sit my ass down and come up with a plan. Even if it is a plan full of things I like and are relaxing. Having support means that I’ve already laid out the plan and all I need to do is pick a recipe. And I’m pretty much always in the mood to look for something tasty to eat : )

Step Four: Schedule a Time

This is equally as important as making a plan. Because without a scheduled time, this day may never come to fruition. I usually pick my day off. Setting aside the latter half of the day for my routine. This way I can get done what needs my attention in the beginning of the day, then turn that attention inwardly towards my self-care routine. Win, win.

Ideally, when picking a time, it’s best to choose one where you won’t be rushed from your state of relaxation. Or a time that’s sandwiched in between tasks. Rushing from relaxing to something stressful, for me, doesn’t embody what I’m trying to achieve with a self-care routine. Stress, is usually what we’re trying to care for with our self-care. So if possible, planning a chunk of time where you won’t feel rushed to wrap up quickly do to other, pressing matters will go a long way in finding ease in your self-care routine.

Step Five: Relax : )

This step is a lot easier said than done. It sometimes feels a though this is the great trick that biology played on us. The one thing we’d like to do most, is just out of reach. But, it’s not impossible to get to a relaxed state. It only takes practice.

For me, I sometimes, okay, most times focus on how everything needs to be perfect. If I’m making a meal, it has to not only taste delicious, but look insta worthy as well. The place I’ll be enjoying my meal has to be immaculate and all my creature comforts need to be within reach.

I enjoy all these aspects of my self-care routine. The cleanliness helps me to feel more at ease and I like like sharing something I’ve spent time and love preparing for myself. But what I need to remind myself is, that it doesn’t have to be perfect. That even if my surroundings are a little disordered, or my meal looks unappetizing, but tastes delicious, it’s okay to enjoy what is. Without the critical judgements that pop up. The judgements will come, but we don’t need to listen to them and respond to them. We can just enjoy what we’ve created.

Practice Your Self-Care Routine & You’ll be Practicing Joy

And it’s in practicing these self-care routines that we can learn to derive a sense of joy from them. This is why it is so important, for me, to come up with a plan and schedule a time for these events. Because it is in coming back to them that we learn how to come back to the things that bring us a sense of ease and where we learn how to come back to joy.

What’s so strange about this lesson, for me was, that it took so long to learn. Almost all of our states are products of us practicing them. We aren’t born stressed. This is a trait we pick up from consistently over loading ourselves with tasks and responsibilities, while we slowly take away our recovery time. For most of us, this is a life long process. But if we can practice our way into a more stressful lifestyle, the good news is, we can practice our way out.

Stick to Your Self-Care Schedule

This is why a routine is so important. Practice, practice, practice. And the more we practice these weekly routines, the more we can throw a few smaller ones in throughout our days. Maybe you find that you enjoy the essential oils you put in your weekly bath so much that you find a shower steamer to use during your morning shower routine.

Or there’s a snack you find during your self-care meal prep that you make a part of your regular, after work routine. Whatever it is that you find that brings you a sense of ease during your week, practice that. Because it is here where you will find your joy and ease. And it’ll be worth all your while when you are able to relax, knowing that it is a state that you’ve cultivated through positive and healthy habits.

Practice, Practice, Practice

This cannot be under stated. You need to consistently practice these routines and what brings you joy. Even on the days when it just seems like too much work. Especially on these days, because this is when you need a little self-care the most.

What I’ve found is, when I schedule my routine for a specific day, I tend to look forward to that day all throughout the week. It helps to keep me in a positive frame of mind during more difficult aspects of my days. When I’m tired or looking at a task I know I don’t want to do, I remind myself gentle that there is something to look forward to. And in the larger picture, when I’m out of debt and living according to my new values of thriftiness, I’ll be able to go bigger on my self-care routines : )

So friends, start actively looking for the things and activities that bring you joy. Start small and see where they take you. Before you know it, you’ll have dozens of little things that bring you joy everyday. Peace : ) & thanks for reading.

Image Credit:”#2. Tea” by ben matthews ::: is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Childhood Emotional Neglect

Here’s another big topic. Childhood emotional neglect is something that has recently been on my radar. But it’s also something that, when I read about what it is and its effects, I identified with and immediately knew what it was. In the family that I grew up in, we never spoke about emotions. But what I think and feel was so damaging about this was, that when we did have an emotion openly, or displayed an emotional need, it was made known that the person having the emotion was just one more cross to be born by the other.

I would later realize that this was my parents’ inability to establish healthy boundaries around how much they are willing vs. able to give. But as a child, this sent the message that it was not okay for me to have emotions. As though my emotions were a punishment bestowed upon those who were in charge of my well being, and not an aspect of being human.

In this post I’d like to talk a little about what emotional neglect looked like growing up in my family in action. And ways that I’m coming to understand what happened to me and how I’m healing from it. Here’s a link to the site that sparked the inspiration for this post. And also, I’m not a professional, these are only my experiences and opinions. If you’re experiencing difficult emotional states, speaking with a trusted professional therapist or counsellor is advisable.

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

When I was a child, what I remember most about my family was, that they had one look, one affect. And it was of disapproval. Seldom did my family look on one another with loving and caring gazes. If I was happy, I would get a tentative look in response. As if to say, “I see you’re happy, but are you really happy?” And on top of the confusion of not understanding my family’s responses and lack of mirroring to my emotions, I felt as though there was something wrong with me.

Their constant, judgmental stares reinforcing my deficiency in some way. So every time I had an emotion, I felt compelled to seek my family’s approval. “Is this right? Am I feeling this right?” was how I felt most of the time, in regards to how I was feeling emotionally. This would also play out in my relationships with women, later on in life. More on that later. But with this type, or rather lack of mirroring of emotions, I was left not understanding how I felt about pretty much anything at any given time.

My emotional world was a confusing maze, thanks to the emotional neglect I had been through. And one I had no map to navigate. So I drifted. I floated from one relationship to the next, one set of circumstances to another, without direction. What I was looking for was a place to feel accepted and approved of mostly. I think I was also looking for someone to tell me how to feel. But that was a lesson that was still on its way.

Choosing Relationships not Knowing How I Felt About Them

Relationships are difficult to understand when you don’t know how you feel about them. The best way to describe the experience is, that I was so afraid of not belonging, being accepted, that I was in survival mode for most of my life. Fear was the number one emotion in my world, and something I knew well. So when it came to choosing a relationship, I went along with whomever was going to tell me how and who to be.

Due to my emotional neglect, I had no idea what was expected of me in a relationship. Or even more importantly, I had no idea what made me happy in a relationship. So I chose people who, in no uncertain terms, would tell me how to be accepted by them.

In these relationships, I spent a majority of my time sedated with alcohol while letting my S.O. tell me what she expected from me. I had successfully created a space where I could exist in a sort of half numb state, where I didn’t have to live my life or take responsibility for who I am or my emotions. I was so busy being what everybody else wanted of me and feeling that I was a burden in some way, that I had no idea what I was feeling emotionally or who I was like. This was confusing.

When Fear is the Glue that Binds

And what held me together in my relationships was mostly a sense of fear. Fear of being abandoned and left alone. A fear of being judged bad or not worth being with and feeling shamed for it. The emotional neglect I endured had left me feeling so much fear, that I was paralyzed in my emotional body. Frozen solid. Too afraid to wake into the reality of what my thoughts and feelings were about who I was.

This did not bode well for my relationships. I was acting against my better moral judgement by treating women like sex objects, as well as writing people off while acting incredibly arrogant. And all to make myself seem “acceptable” as a certain type of man. The type of man I had modeled for me and was suggested for me to be, when I was a child. Needless to say, the types of women I was attracting were not women who were best suited to who I actually wanted to be.

Being Sensitive as a Man in a Relationship

Because under the arrogance and pettiness, I was a super sensitive, thoughtful and caring, hopeless romantic, who was terrified of the ways I was behaving. I was rejected by my family, for who I was, so many times that I tried forcing myself to be as they implied and modeled for me. But this was also how I came to be my own abuser.

By freezing and numbing my emotions, while behaving the ways my family did that terrified me as a child, I had become my own abuser. And in turn, I chose women who craved this type of man. Emotionally neglectful and abusive. Time and time again I would choose relationships that left me feeling worse while I was in them. Too afraid to be my sensitive self due to the fear of being rejected or torn apart for having emotions that weren’t “manly”. So I numbed them to fit into the mold of who my S.O., friends and family wanted me to be.

We were repeating the patterns of emotional neglect, from my family, in my romantic relationships. All for the sake of “fitting in” with the people I had come to fear. This was unhealthy. I wish that I could say that there was a defining moment, one where I woke from this fear and started living a life more true to my emotions. But there were some dramatic events that coincided with my awakening.

Waking from the Fear & Emotional Neglect

I drifted through my relationships and most of my life, until I was married in my mid-twenties. Our relationship wasn’t terrible by any means. We were amicable to one another and pleasant most of the time. One day, my now ex-wife came to me and said that we felt more like roommates than a married couple. Looking back now, I understand more clearly what she meant. And she was correct. But I was so numb at the time, that I couldn’t tell the difference.

My family members had acted much the same way as I was acting, so it just seemed natural to me. But what I realize now, what was missing from our relationship was, a felt sense of affection for each other. Sure physical attraction, but more the type where you would lay in bed and talk and cuddle. Being open in emotions and thoughts while being physically close. What I missed when she brought this up was, that these were the questions that would have lead to more intimacy.

But I was much too scared to be intimate in relationship then. I’m only now realizing that intimacy comes after overcoming your fears of being close to another, not before. I first needed to learn to feel safe in relationships with others, before I could be intimate with another. These lessons are usually learned with family in childhood. So in order to feel safe in relationship, I went back to where it all began. To my family.

Safety with & Among Those Closest

After my divorce and the break up of the relationship which immediately followed my marriage, I had no choice but to move back in with family. What made this move so difficult was, that I had been so thoroughly neglected by this family member, I was terrified to get anywhere near them. But I stayed.

I stayed and learned how to take care of myself, but also and more importantly, I learned how to allow myself to be supported by those I was with. I had been so used to do things my way and Feeling Supported By Communicating

And it’s during these interactions where we’re collectively reversing the emotional neglect that we had all experienced in the family. The more often we connect, the more comfortable we all feel with asking each other more and more questions. In the family of my youth, there were no boundaries. Family members would root around in one another’s belongings to try to find something, anything that was being hidden from them.

It turns out that all we were hiding from each other was love and trust. What we wanted to know, we didn’t trust that the other would be honest with us if we asked. Due to us feeling as though we had to be secretive about ourselves and our emotional states for fear of being torn apart. Fast forward to family dinner Fridays and we’re communicating more open and honestly than we ever have.

We’re concerned about each others well being. We share things we find that we think will aid each other. We’re creating community by being honest and open with our emotional states. And this is what we were missing all along. Because we were too afraid to be our authentic, sometimes scared, vulnerable selves around each other, not knowing or realizing that whatever happened we would and could be there to take care of ourselves. Care we could then extend to each other.

Finding Your Connection

I recognize that my situation is unique. Not everybody can go back to a fearful place and make a fresh start. And it was a lot of hard work on my part too. It’s not as though our connection didn’t have its difficulties. But what made it possible to reconnect again was an open mind and staying in the discomfort. Knowing it’s going to be hard but staying anyways, that’s what helped us to create tighter bonds with each other.

Emotional neglect in relationships is not easy to overcome, but it’s also not impossible to either. If you’ve found yourself relating to some of what I’ve written, please seek help. Feeling alone and isolated are two major parts of emotional neglect. And the longer we live with these feelings, the more difficult it is to come back from them. Reaching out to a professional can be a great way to open the door, if only a little bit, to start letting people in again.

Because it is in relationship where we really come alive. The love and trust that we share is life blood to our relationships. And our relationships with each other can be so rewarding. I also find that it helps to think the best of others as well. Not everybody is out for themselves. There are good people out there doing good work. It’s our job to be that person and recognize it in others. Good luck on your journey, and know that you are not alone. Peace & thanks for reading : )

Image Credits: “Broken Mirror” by Rakesh Ashok is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Sleep Hygiene: It’s Important

This is something I know I’ve heard time and again. Sleep is important. Though, throughout my life, I’ve neglected this advice for more pressing, or enjoyable endeavors. I’d also over indulge in sleep. Sleeping up to 12 hours at a stretch. Either way, my relationship to sleep was not a healthy one. In the past few years, I’ve been making my sleep hygiene a priority. I’ve been making sure that I’ve been getting at least six hours a night. Even though there are days I work late and wake early, working thirteen hour days all in the name of paying off my student loans.

So it’s in this vein that I want to go over how I struck a balance in finding a healthy sleep routine. One that’s helping me to preform at my best, but also feeling my best, naturally. And also some of the crazy facts I learned about how important healthy sleep is. So let’s start where I usually start my posts, in my reckless teen and twenties.

Sleeping as a Youth

When I was in my teens, it seemed as though all I was doing was sleeping. This though, I imagine is the norm. This article from MSN covers some of the basics about why it is so important for teens to get between eight to ten hours of sleep.

I Don’t remember much about my sleep habits in my teen years. I vaguely remember being out late and drinking too much. Also sleeping very late when I wasn’t getting up early to go to school. Either way, sleep was not a priority for me. In the MSN article above, they say this is due to hormonal changes and normal development. Add to these normal changes, finding your friend group, discovering who you are as a person, or as most of us do, try to fit in, and you’ve got a lot of new and exciting/anxiety provoking life events happening all at once. Our teen years are a crazy time, for sure.

Now a days, I relish the nights I am able to get to bed at a time that will allow me to get the optimal amount of sleep. Not to mention the crazy dreams I have during the night. But if I enjoy sleeping so much, why was I neglecting my sleep hygiene in my youth? I think it has to do with the excitement of finding where you feel a sense of belonging. And the possibility of new experiences we will have.

FOMO

FOMO is a term I first heard from Buddhist Psychologist, Tara Brach. It stands for, fear of missing out. This can be a strong pull for anybody. To feel as though you are being left out, or missing something that people will be talking about for years to come. Or maybe even just the excitement of being young and the feeling of cruising around with your friends, not doing anything but being young. However the feelings play out, FOMO is a big draw for losing sleep.

And for me, later in life, sleep would almost always lose out to staying up late to drink and play video games. The later was an especially pointed one for me, as I would stay up until 2-3am gaming. First I would game with my friends, drinking, taking turns handing of the controller to the next in line. Later, I would game online in some multi-person, massive, online game like World of Warcraft. I would still play with friends, only now we could all play at the same time. And needless to say, we all still had a drink in hand, for sure.

Though what I’ve found is, that when I was acting from this place of FOMO, I was also neglecting my most basic needs. Sleep being one for sure. But there were a host of other areas in my life that needed my attention. In short, I fell way behind in the game of life, and am now scrambling to catch up to where I would like to be. No bueno.

More Crazy Info about How Sleep is Crazy Important for You & Your Health

About five years ago, a friend told me to check out the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast. He said it was something he enjoyed and that I should give it a listen. I remember listening to it after he suggested it to me and thinking, that this was more of the same machismo, pop-culture that I just wasn’t into. Though recently, another friend of mine suggested I listen to his podcast, so I decided to give it another chance.

I’m glad I did. The episode I listened to, and the inspiration for this post was, an episode where Joe interviewed a neuroscience and psychology professor at Berkley College, California, Mathew Walker. Walker explains how important healthy sleep habits are, in maintaining overall good health. And, it’s not only for teenagers.

We Need Between 7 to 9 Hours of Sleep a Night

This one was kind of a surprise to me. I knew that teenagers needed more sleep, but I had heard that people need less sleep, the older they get. I was under the assumption that we only needed around six hours of sleep a night as adults. This was something that Walker explains is a common misconception.

Walker explains that our minds need dream sleep. There are two types of sleep; REM sleep and non-REM sleep. And there are four stages of sleep, one through four. We cycle through these stages throughout the night. They help us to heal, consolidate memories and other important functions that keep us at our most healthiest. It’s no wonder why sleep is so important. Here’s an article from Very Well Health which explains these stages of sleep.

And more importantly, any less than seven hours of sleep and our minds and bodies begin to become depleted. Our cognitive and physical functions decrees by around 30%. Sleep is where we process the ideas and activities we learn during the day and commit them to long term memory. So having healthy sleep hygiene is super important for our overall health and self-care. And not something that we should be pushing ourselves to preform without.

How to Create a Healthy & Cozy Sleep Routine

So if we know that sleep is important to our overall health, how do we create habits that are conducive to getting optimal sleep? In the following, I’ll be going over what the experts say, and some of my habits when it comes to getting the healthiest sleep possible. So grab a cup of herbal tea and get cozy : )

Drink Less Caffeine

This one should be a no-brainer, but drinking less caffeine, especially right before you go to bed, will help to ease your mind into a relaxed state. One conducive to sleep. When I was younger, I used to drink a LOT of coffee. Between 5-7 mocha lattes a day. And that’s not including the energy drinks I was consuming either. Usually during work or at the bar when Redbull and vodkas were popular. I was also staying up till 2-3am playing video games as well. All of which were unhealthy habits for optimal sleep.

Now I drink very little caffeine during the course of the day. Usually a cup or two of tea in the mornings if at all. I’ve noticed that I’m not nearly as jittery during the day, and my nighttime wind down and sleep have come much more smoothly. It’s nice knowing that I can lay down and fall asleep without worrying about if I’ll be well rested enough.

Drink Less Alcohol

This one is a little less intuitive than not drinking so much caffeine. I know when I’m drinking alcohol, I feel as though I’m getting drowsy. But, I’ve learned from the Joe Rogan episode on sleep, that alcohol is a sedative. And sedation is not the same as sleep. Alcohol actual stops the mind and body from entering into the realm of dream sleep (stage 4). The same is true of marijuana. So if you’ve been consuming alcohol or marijuana for long enough, you will have gone without REM sleep for as long as you’ve been sedated, using these substances.

Keeping your alcohol and marijuana use to a few times a week, or as I do, I have a beer with my Self-care Sunday meals, you’ll be allowing your mind to get the much needed REM sleep it’s been missing. And in severe cases, if we’re deprived of REM, or dream sleep for too long, it will leak over into our waking lives. This is not optimal. Maybe try a sober October if you’ve been in the habit of using either substance to help you sleep. And notice the difference.

Body Temperature & Lighting

I also learned from Joe Rogan’s podcast that your body and mind need to drop in temperature by two to three degrees. This is why it’s easier to fall asleep in colder weather that in the warmer months. Some tips for achieving this are to take a hot shower before you turn in for the night. The temperature increase in your body will make the surrounding, ambient lower. Helping you to fall into your sleep cycle with more ease.

Also, lighting is an important aspect of sleep. It’s well known that screen time has the effect of tricking our minds and bodies into thinking that we’re taking in daylight. This throws off our circadian rhythm. So to produce more melatonin, try switching off some of your lights at night and avoid screens an hour before bedtime. I light a few candles and have a few ambient lighting sources that I switch on before I go to bed. Creating just the right atmosphere for my bedtime routine.

My Bedtime Routine

My bedtime routine has evolved over the past few years. Before, I had no routine to speak of. I would drink and play videogames until I couldn’t anymore. Then I would stumble into bed in a half sedated state. Only to wake up at some point the next day and repeat more of the same. Now, I have much healthier habits. Let me walk you through a usual night for me and how I’ve created a healthy sleep space for myself.

Shower & Tea

I usually start out with taking a hot shower. This way I feel clean getting into my sheets for the night. I’ll brew a cup of herbal tea, something warm to sip on while I’m relaxing at the end of my day. I’m usually on my feet most of the day, so this down time is relished. This is where I can really unwind from the day.

Lighting, Music & Scent

I also set the mood by lighting a few candles and turning on other, low, diffused lighting around my room ideal for relaxing and no other light sources. I don’t usually use my phone or my computer during these times. Anything that I need to plan or do, can wait until the morning. Here I just soak in the relaxing lighting around me.

Speaking of diffused, I usually have a relaxing scent diffusing just before bed. I use oils such as geranium or lavender to help set a more relaxing atmosphere. So while my candles are burning, and I’m sipping tea under a cozy throw blanket, I’m also immersed in the scent of something pleasant. I’ll also have a playlist of some soothing music playing. Something acoustic and mellow. And I try to set my bedtime for the same time each night. And aim for about eight hours a night.

Tucking in

This is my bedtime routine and it’s been working for me for some time now. After a life’s time worth of unhealthy sleep habits, I’m finally getting a handle on healthy sleep hygiene. I feel more rested during the day and have more energy to get to the things that I need to do on my ever growing todo list. If you’ve struggled with sleep in the past, maybe try implementing some of these changes into your routine.

Sleep is important. Too important to be cast aside as an after thought. In our culture, going without sleep is something that has become a badge of honor. Though this only leads to poor health and other detriments to our daily routines. So keep up with this aspect of your health and wellbeing. You’ll rest easier knowing you’ve taken care of your sleep needs. Peace & thanks for reading.

Image Credits: “Japanese beds are not as comfortable as they look” by Wayan Vota is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

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